Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In which Liam's shoulder continues to pain him, and feline love blossoms in my closet.

What a month! We've had our first snow fall in these past few days, and it reminds us how pretty (and how cold) our lovely state can get. It also reminds us of all the heavy snow that we will have to be shoveling in the months to come. Fortunately, our driveway is not large. Unfortunately, Liam's shoulder is not improving, despite physical therapy. He has an MRI scheduled, and we will finally learn what is causing him such constant pain. I, particularly, am eager for his shoulder to be fixed, as currently all of the lifting and yardwork falls to me (this will include snow shoveling!). Liam tried to mow the lawn once this fall, and spent three days in agony after his shoulder made it clear what a terrible idea that was. He manages not to display it to everyone, but most days he is in constant pain. Even lifting a roast pan into the oven is too much.

We do have some good news: we paid off one of Liam's school loans early! He had been overpaying by 20%, intentionally, since the beginning, and we cut off years from the repayment schedule. There are still plenty of school loans between the two of us, but it's nice to be able to turn the suddenly free money in our monthly budget to another one of our loans. Which one shall we put it towards? We have no credit card debt, but we each have school loans, there are two cars, and a mortgage. Hmmm.... possibilities, possibilities!

We've also finally got a storm door installed on our back door! Ever since we moved into our darling little house I have dreamed of having a screen door put in so that I can open the heavy interior door in the summer and get some light and air into our kitchen. In the winter, it adds an air buffer to keep drafts out from around our door. My father bought us the door for my birthday (note on how to tell you are getting older: you suddenly care if things match, and you desire housewares and hardware on your giftlist), and Liam's father helped install the door (since Liam's bum shoulder forbade any actual movement). Like all things about our old old house, the door had to be custom sized in order to fit the frame properly. Fortunately, modern storm door kits allow for a few inches of adjustment.
The cats don't know what to make of the new storm door. We don't have the interior door open often (it is winter), but they stare at the "open" space with big eyes. Why is the door open? The outside is showing! What if it comes in to get them?! Tomoe runs in terror, Sirius sits very very still, across the room, with his eyes fully dilated. If you touch his back when he is looking, he jumps. Butterscotch is nowhere to be found anytime the door is open, preferring to stay in her safe world of Under the Armchair where nothing can reach her.

"You cannot separate us. We are in love."
Speaking of the cats, I have a humorous story. Some of you may know that Sirius has a fixation on wool, and has gone to great lengths to steal several skeins of wool-blend yarn out of my knitting stash. Often I will follow a yarn trail around the house, only to find him with his entire body wrapped possessively around the skein. He is very sullen when I take the yarn back from him. He has ripped through plastic bags to get his beloved yarn back. It is only wool yarn that fascinates him (this is not uncommon among kitties, although many also like to lick the fiber, which he has shown no interest in).
This past week I purchased a lovely cardigan, adding a soft neutral color to my collection of professional sweaters. Every morning I have found it in a different spot in the house. Every morning, curious, I pick it up and bring it back to our bedroom. Then I thought to check the label: merino wool. Sirius has been stealing the sweater and bringing it on a romantic rendezvous to knead and snuggle! Now I bring the sweater back each morning and tuck it in a shopping bag to see how he will choose to steal it and where he will bring it. Oh kitty.

It has also come to my attention that many of you, despite me diligently typing your email addresses into the "share" feature each time I publish a post, are not receiving notices that a new post has appeared. My apologies. I tried!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

In which Liam misses his dog, and I prove yet again how oblivious I am.

In October, we realized that we were going to have to give up Liam's dog. His shoulder was getting worse and worse, and every time it started to get better, the dog (who is 70+ pounds of solid puppy muscle) would yank on the leash and retear his shoulder/bicep. It was at the point that pain meds weren't touching it (medications are not particularly effective on him anyway, something he was born with. Remind me one day to tell you the story of his mole being removed, and how the doctor would not believe that the Novocaine was not taking effect), and he was constantly suffering throughout the day.

After identifying the dog as the source of his constant reinjury, Liam willingly broke his own heart and handed over Nashua to another family in the Guiding Eyes training program. This family has been fantastic. They have several teenagers, all in involved in sports, so Nashua is constantly stimulated and exhausted by the end of the day. "Does he go jogging?" they asked when we handed him over. "'Cause he's going to go now." Stimulated and exhausted is a good state for a puppy with a mind as sharp as his. It means he gets into significantly less mischief!

Liam misses his dog every day. Originally, he was hoping that his shoulder would heal quickly and we would get the dog back within a month, but that timeline looks less and less feasible (although his arm is healing). Even when he is diligent about not using his arm, the healing takes slow. Yesterday he did some fall yardwork (I weep at all the leaves! So many leaves....), and this morning he is certain that he's set himself back two weeks just from the vibrations of the lawnmower jostling his injured muscle.

We did get to see Nashua on Sunday when we attended the bi-weekly training class. He did a double-take when he saw us! He looked very healthy, and very mellow, and was completely unconcerned that he had not seen us for weeks. Alas, this lack of long-term attachment is exactly why Labradors are used for this training! Unlike other breeds, they quickly stop pining for their trainers and reattach to their new owners.

Sunday afternoon and evening we spent at the New Horizons soup kitchen, volunteering to serve up a Veteran's Day dinner to the Manchester homeless. Liam and I were placed at the check-in table, keeping track of who came in, ages, genders, etc. Once again I proved to be completely oblivious, as Liam noted that a significant number of the people coming in 1) went to me instead of him, even after we switched seats to see if being closer or farther to the door made a difference, 2) were intoxicated (the kitchen is a 'wet' service, meaning that they elect to feed folks even if they have been drinking or self-medicating. They do screen people before they let them in the door, though, turning away violent or fall-down drunk persons). I had absolutely no idea, and it struck me that apparently many of the less fortunate and homeless folks I have dealt with over the years were probably intoxicated and I was oblivious. All this time I thought that the ones that slurred their words and had a hard time focusing or standing straight were suffering from some mental impairment or old head injury. Nope. Apparently I am just completely oblivious. (This is supported by the time one of the workers at my old job came in drunk or high and I thought she was just tired and sick and had been crying. Completely oblivious.)

The New Horizons soup kitchen is apparently run by a NH television personality, Charlie Sherman, and it warms my heart to see how much he cares for the people less fortunate than him. He had brought in a 10 person brass band and they played for the homeless folks during dinner (it was very hard to hear people as we checked them in. They were loud.), which was much appreciated by the diners. How little joy they have in their lives!

Monday, October 7, 2013

September 2013

Things we did this month:

Liam discovered that he does not particularly care for nuts, but rather it is the salt that is often put on nuts that he likes. We discovered this after he purchased a jar of roasted unsalted mixed nuts. He was very disappointed.

We discovered that the old dead witch tree that sits on our elderly neighbor's property (and which drops its dead limbs and peeling bark onto our property) has piles of sawdust at its base. The tree is literally rotting from the inside out. We hope to approach her out taking it down again this year. Last year she refused to let us take it down because there was "plenty of life left in that tree!" We were very confused, as it is a very very dead tree, but realized that she is about 90 years old and quite near to blind and is mistaking the leafy stranglevine all over its trunk for healthy branch growth.

Someone in Liam's office was hiding how much her dog allergy was affecting her at work, and Liam chose to stop bringing Nashua into the office with him. Some of his co-workers were very disappointed that there would no longer be a morning game of fetch, but Liam noticed an immediate improvement in his allergic co-worker. Her eyes stopped swelling, and her breath was easier. The pup gets bored at home, now, and he's a mighty terror again.

It dining room ceiling beams look much better now that they're stained and sealed. At last, they look finished, or at least not like a forgotten mistake.
Forgive the tarp, we learned our lesson the first time with the sawdust.

Elisabeth turned 28! There were flowers (thanks Mum!) and cream puffs shaped like swans (thanks Liam!).

Liam's shoulder continues to get worse. He asked for a referral to a physical therapist, but was instead sent to a shoulder specialist who then sent him to a physical therapist, both of which were unable to figure out what was wrong with him shoulder. The PT did notice that there was a rib out of place and poking the muscles, and popped it back to where it should have been. This had the affect of moving and changing the pain: instead of intermittent pain in three places, Liam had extreme pain in one place almost constantly. Medications have little to no affect on Liam (or his mother) so over the counter pain relievers are barely touching his pain. His shoulder is slowly improving (only paining him when he uses it, or when he moves his arm or lifts something) under the PT's care. The theory right now is that there might be a tear in his bicep. Check out this nifty steroid patch he was given to wear for a few hours! That's an electric thingy on the patch, and it would send little shocks into his muscle, seizing the muscle slightly and doing... something... to the medication in the patch. I'm assuming the steroid encourages the targeted area to repair the muscle.  Science is cool.

The new bookstore opened on my birthday (it's like it's both of our birthdays!), and it's beautiful! The reception from the community so far has been very positive. It was such a relief to move from 3,000 feet to 10,000+! It really struck us how cramped our old space had been when we were having trouble fitting all of the books onto the shelves in our new space. If we were having trouble now, how did we ever manage it in the smaller space? The only answer we could come up with is that we were wizards.
Sports writer and middlegrade children's writer Mike Lupica fills our event section on September 20th.

Friday, September 20, 2013

August 2013

Liam's new job continues well. He's quickly become well-liked, and continues to dazzle his superiors with his competence and natural talent for working with people. The training programs he's come up with have become very popular so far. It's nice to see him come home with a smile on his face, and to see him still have energy on the weekends.

 My 10 year high school reunion came and went. I was uncertain if I really wanted to go, but I'm glad that I did. There were some people I thought I would want to see, and some people I thought I didn't care to see, and some people I had forgotten about but was glad to get to know now that we're adults. I think I made a new friend or two, too, which was unexpected. Not that we weren't friends or friendly as children, but it's astonishing to compare and contrast our relationships directly against where we left off ten years ago. We're so much more now, and we're a lot more fun and interesting now that we know who we are.

I'm really not certain why we're all leaning forward.
Courtesy of Poulin Photography!
The dog continues to be a goober.

Liam traded in his car and got a Subaru, which he's been dreaming of for five years. At last he has a vehicle with a roof rack for his kayak, and enough space in the back for the dog. Interestingly, since the Subaru has a higher safety rating, we are saving more money on our car insurance than we're losing on our increased monthly car payment.

After two springs of stepping through mud and squelchy grass on the lawn, I installed stepping stones in front of the porch leading to our driveway. They're not pretty, but I'm rather proud of them. I also replaced the door knob on our bathroom door. That was an adventure. When the "vintage" knob came off in my hand I was actually rather thrilled (this was probably due in part to the fact that I wasn't stuck inside the bathroom when the knob fell apart) because it meant I could replace the ugly awful thing. It was one of those old faux tortoiseshell, "porcelain" knobs that were popular decades ago, the sort that gradually lose all of their tension and stability and start drooping and rattling in their sockets. Unfortunately, most of the door knobs sold commercially these days are either entirely too modern looking to blend nicely with a simple house from the 1870's, or are cut crystal and glass and Victorian looking. Those glass knobs. How many frustrated memories I have of actual vintage glass knobs slipping and twisting and rattling in my hands, when all I wanted was to open a door. They may be desired by some people, but I am not one of those people.
The look of the knob itself aside (we finally found a nice simple knob with a faux patina that doesn't look too modern but also doesn't look like we're farmers with pretensions of glamor), the door and the latch were another problem. Once I finally pried the latch assembly out from underneath a dozen layers of paint, the door turned out to be the original solid wood, with a knob hole sized for antique doors. Did you know they make fancy doorknob hole cutting kits that clamp the hole saw at exactly the right distance from the edge for you? Hurrah for living in the 21st century! The original latch assembly apparently required some funnily placed holes, so I got to play with wood filler, too. The latch catchplate got moved, too, (yay, I got to play with chisels!) and the bathroom door shuts completely and securely now. The pets are very confused, as before this they could pop the door open if they banged into it at the right speed and angle. Sirius gets quite upset now that he can't force his way in whenever someone is in his Magic Water Room. The dog is just confused as he had just figured out how to open the door (from watching the cats), and now he keeps smacking his forehead into it and the door keeps shuddering but not opening.

Silly dog.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

In which my complaint is transferred to Business Cat.

Liam: "Hi hon, just calling to let you know that I just got out of work and I'm at the Merrimack office so it will take me at least 45 minutes to get home. Actually, I need to pick up dog food and a few other things so I'll probably be home in about an hour and a half."

Me: "Boooo, so late? I protest."

Liam: "Oooooo sorry, all of my complaints are being handled by Sirius now."

Me: "... Sirius?" (Sirius is my cat.)

Liam: "Yep. He's very good at handling complaints. He has a 100% success rate."

Me: "But..."

Liam: "And if you're still unhappy he'll flop over and let you snuggle his belly."

Me: "Hmmm, that does sound nice, but what if he cannot resolve my complaint?"

Liam: "Well, we happen to have a fine manager. She's a little hard to find, but she's great at listening."

Me: "And who would that be?"

Liam: "Butterscotch. She's usually hanging out under the arm chair. She looks like she's napping, and she might run away, but that's because of the meetings. Believe me, if she finds out that Sirius can't resolve your complaints, she'll punish me. Probably by yacking up a hairball or tripping me."

Me: "So what role does Tomoe have in all of this? What is her job?"

Liam: "Um, Tomoe is my cat."

Me: "She doesn't have a job?"

Liam: "No, she's a cat. I'm surprised you haven't picked up on this."

I didn't have a response for that. Liam: 1, Elisabeth: 0

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In which we bid good-bye to 26 year old Liam, and Elisabeth gets a silly photo with one of her favorite authors.

Every year there is one delicious month where Liam and I are the same age. This month has started. Happy birthday, Liam! Goodbye 26 year old Liam! We celebrated his birthday in his favorite manner, which is to say we did not celebrate much at all. Liam does not care for fuss on his birthday, as he does not see it as any different than other day. He is aware, though, that birthdays mean a lot to me and let's me do nice things for him. In years passed this has included: making him dinner and sticking a birthday candle in it; making him his morning coffee and sticking a (tall) birthday candle in it and singing at him; making him chocolate chip cookies (which he prefers over cake in general) and sticking birthday candles in them; giving him an empty envelope with a note acknowledging that he hates receiving superfluous gifts, and then giving him a cupcake with a birthday candle in it.
Each year we hide Liam's birthday from well-meaning friends who make a big deal about his birthday. I have to remain cryptic about his actual birthdate when people start fishing for it. I can only say that, like Harry Potter, he is born in the last days of July, and he has many interesting scars. No magical powers have manifested as of yet, nor are we are of any prophecies surrounding him.

We've spent the last few weekends enjoying the summer. The annual Market Days festival brought three days of near-100 degrees heat and such humidity that governments warned citizens to stay indoors. A massive windshear tore through Main Street at 11 p.m. on one of the Market Days, destroying booths and tents for many vendors. Fortunately, the town was abed at that hour and nobody was hurt, but many vendors lost their inventories (thankfully, many were insured). Gibson's lost a tent or two, but fortunately none of our inventory was damaged. I was scheduled to walk up and down Main Street dressed as Waldo from Where's Waldo in promotion of the Bookstore's Where's Waldo downtown scavenger hunt, but with the long sleeves and knee socks that the costume requires, I would have surely succumbed to heat sickness very quickly. I didn't wear the costume, in the end. I still nearly overheated in my sundress and parasol.

We enjoyed a concert by my favorite string quartet rock band, Darlingside, in Bicentennial Square on Saturday night, the close of the Market Days festival. The next day we joined Dan and Marie for a tubing adventure down the Merrimack River. The river had been quite high and swift in the weeks previous (11 people had drowned in the State so far in the month by then), so we were quite cautious in our preparations. The trip downriver took about two hours less than last year, indicating how much faster the river was flowing. Our giant beautiful river looks so deceptive and slow as it serenely rolls past!
We had a snazzy double tube with head rests and a cooler compartment between the seats and netting in the bottom of the tubes to prevent fish from coming up and attacking us from beneath (probably not why the netting was there, but it's something that bothers me so that's how I choose to interpret it). None of us sunburned! Last year we had left the sunscreen bottle at the cars and all suffered for it on our six hour float down the river. I was fortunate that I had my parasol with me last year, but the others were not so lucky. Last year Liam's Irish skin burnt horribly, and Dan and Marie got sun poisoning severe enough to miss several days of work. This year we brought sun protection in the form of creams and (in Liam's Irish white skin ways) protective clothing that we didn't mind getting wet (not shown) and stayed burn free!

Here is a picture of the dog:
Liam was trying to take a picture of the dog with his new hiking dog-panniers, but Nashua's attention was swiftly diverted by a moth. I am especially impressed with the way he seemed to dislocate his jaw to attack his airborne prey.
I hosted a book-signing event at the Bookstore for Terry Brooks, legendary fantasy author (his Sword of Shannara made the New York Times Bestseller list back in 1977, the very first fantasy novel to hit the NYT list, ever. He was the first fantasy author after Tolkien to capture the public's heart. He's had 23 #1's since.):
"Shall we do a serious picture, or a silly one?" I asked.
"Oh, silly I think," he said.
I was thrilled. Authors never seem to want to do silly pictures.
He is a very nice man. I enjoy his events very much.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Independence Day, in which we introduce Nashua to fireworks.

Each year Brian comes to visit up for the 4th of July, and he and Liam and I drive east to the seacoast (of which New Hampshire has 18 miles) to help Liam's grandfather set off fireworks. Grandpa Jack runs Jack's 5-Star Fireworks, and set off the fireworks display for the Beach Club near Hampton Beach, and for the Town of Rye. Usually we hammer together mortar tubes on the beach starting at 6 p.m., linking together the bombs with long fuses, and then hurry-up-and-wait for full dark. This year, however, we were hampered by the tide. The tide was still high at 8 p.m., such that we could only set up at about 9:45 p.m., which is incredibly late. The water was still awfully close, then, but it was enough that we were far enough away from the road that we wouldn't cause a car fire. We knew about the high tide and had easy-to-lay cake-fireworks instead of separate mortars, which only took about 15 minutes to set up. Unfortunately, cake-fireworks don't fly as high as mortars, nor are they quite as fabulous on the lesser budget we were given by the Beach Club (who were not happy with the display or the length, even though they were the ones to cut the budget when they'd heard we couldn't set up mortars in the water). We could hear the Club managers complaining that we weren't able to start at 9:30, demanding we start earlier in direct defiance of the stern safety instructions of the Fire Marshals present and observing, seeming to demand that the tide go out faster. But the tide waits for no man, and nor does it hurry up for any man.
It was nice to have such a fast set-up and clean-up, though. Normally it takes hours, and there is heat and sand and it's full-dark but for our flashlights and the bugs are attracted to our flashlights and then to us.

The Rye fireworks went much better, a fabulous display of cake-fireworks carefully timed to dazzle in the smaller venue of the park field. We brought Nashua with us to these, as it would take only a few hours to execute, short enough that he would have a good chance of behaving, and not acting out from boredom. We kept him on his 50' longline so he could run, and he discovered a tennis ball which he brought back to us to throw. He loves to chase, but quickly loses interest once he's found the ball again. Our intention was to expose him to fireworks, that he learn not to be frightened by the sudden noises and lights so his future blind handler can enjoy holiday parties and events with their families. He did very well. At the first blooms he startled and pressed against Liam's legs, staring up at the lights in the sky, trying to figure it all out. He did not run. He did not bark. He did not cower. His heart beat quickly, but he did not panic, and that was what we had hoped for.
He went right to sleep afterwards, collapsing across my feet in the car's footwell, stuffing his face into the cool air coming from the air conditioner.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

In which Liam gets a new job

Liam has a new job! We are very excited. He is taking a in-house Training Coordinator position at Bellwether Credit Union, which entails training everybody in the company's multiple branches (from new frontline tellers in how to use their cash drawer to the CEO in new management technique theories), and coming with new techniques and presentations to use, and keeping an eye on employees to see who could use extra help or who has potential to learn new skills. This position is uniquely suited for Liam, as his superior skill set involves managing people. He is known for his patience and insight, his ability to read people and identify their motivations, and in getting two people who despise each other to agree on business issues being discussed. He starts at his new position in about two weeks. (There is the chance that he'll be able to bring Nashua-the-dog to work with him, too, which presents a unique training opportunity for Nashua to get used to office atmosphere's and staying quiet and still and patient while his future owner works. Office workers having a bad day will get to visit the dog for hugs and snuggles too, so it improves overall office morale as well.)

Liam is sorry to be leaving Lincoln Financial after three years, but this opportunity was too good to pass up, Also, Lincoln's recent flattening of its management levels meant that the advancement opportunities that Liam had been working towards were eliminated and he had no prospects to work towards.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

In which we get tendonitis, and wear pink wigs.

"Where have you been, Elisabeth and Liam? What have you been up to for the past two weeks?"

Liam's shoulder has been bothering him for several weeks now, and he's just got the diagnosis of tendonitis, probably from a swimming session at the gym a few weeks back where he pushed himself to keep up with faster swimmers in his lane. This means several weeks of rest to heal it, which is difficult for a man who does not like to sit still or be idle. A sling helps to remind him not to use it, and gives the external cues to people to be gentle with him and not ask him to reach things off the top shelf, but comes with the frustrating side effect of everybody asking him "What happened to your arm?"

We've finally put our herb garden into the ground! This project is Liam's baby. He's been around beautiful gardens his whole life, thanks to his mother and his grandfather, and he's been itching to get one going since before we even purchased the house. He's starting small this year, with an 8x10' patch carefully planned out to include walkways and convenient distances to reach over and trim and harvest. We've got basil and mint and rosemary and bee balm and lavender and chives and thyme and bergamot all sorts of plants that I don't recognize. His hobby this past winter was herbalism, something that has always interested him. He's got a notebook of recipes and notes about proportions of what worked and didn't work, and whenever I would cough or get stuffed up he'd pop up asking if I wanted him to brew a cup of tea to help with my congestion.

Bahstahn. We attended Anime Boston for the third year in a row (this year's attendance count: Turnstile (door count across three days) - 57,491; Warm Bodies - 21,825). It's tremendous fun to people-watch, to admire the fantastic costumes that people have constructed, and to enjoy what I can only describe as a high quality 3-day Halloween party where everybody gets the same inside jokes. I had tremendous fun with my own costume, which was much improved over last year. My wig was so big with curls that I had to transport it in a hat box! I was treated very differently this year by fellow attendees than last year, much more respectfully, like a professional cosplayer instead of a casual costumer or as the character I was wearing (that was the weirdest last year. People would talk to me like I was the character, and expect me to respond with an extended in-character conversation.). Instead of getting glomped by teenagers, I was approached and had my photograph requested. It's interesting to see the differences! We also got to meet the famous director Nabeshin, which was hilarious and delightful and I got a hug (he didn't speak English well so it was a "Hugu!"), and the Best Drama Video/Editor's Choice video at the Music Video Contest made me cry.
I wore my wig on the trip home because my hair had already been squashed flat for the day, and because when else is one going to get the chance to wear an outrageous pink wig? There were several little girls on the T that couldn't keep their eyes off of me, and one little girl that was brave enough to ask if she could touch my hair. I knelt down and handed her a curl, and she tugged it gently and giggled when it 'boinged!' back up.

A running count of weeds pulled so far this spring : 8604

Thursday, May 16, 2013

In which the cherry blossoms blow, and I covet paint samples

The blooms on our cherry pear trees were especially lovely this year. The white blooms stayed open for a full week, filling the air with their perfume, before they started to fall. There were so many petals that they covered the ground with deep drifts of petals and filled the air like our yard was a romantic movie set or a wedding.

My local hardware store clearanced a whole season's worth of paint samples. There are hundreds of little 2 oz containers of paint, enough to paint a swatch on your wall to see if you really like the color, OR, just enough to paint a dinged and scratched and worn object in a lovely color and breathe new life into it. I restrained myself and only bought seven different colors. I've set to work priming, painting, and sealing the decrepit and mismatched flower pots that I've accumulated across the years.

This is not a pear tree. It is our crab apple tree.
The blossoms are pink, and lovely.

We found an electric hedge trimmer. I'm quite excited about it. I have to remember to be careful in how I use it, lest I fall into the trap of "oops, this side is uneven, I'll just trim it down to match.... oops, now this side is uneven, I'll just trim it... oops...".  I took it for a spin this afternoon and finally beat our rhododendron hedge into submission. Now instead of looking line a furry blob, it looks like a respectable shrub. Granted, I need some practice, and it's entirely possible that there's a divot or two not shown in these pictures, but I'm really unreasonably proud that I did this well my first time out of the gate.

Before! Looking pretty shaggy.

After! Moderately acceptable, and definitely neater!
(Incidentally, hedge trimmers also work well to cut down thick clumps of crab grass that our vintage push-reel mower was having trouble with.)

A running count of weeds pulled so far this spring : 7507

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

In which we consider ways in which we are willing to expend effort in yardwork, and ways in which we are not.

Happy Birthday to my wonderful mother-in-law, Elizabeth Claire!

Liam's Grandpa Jack is recovering very nicely from his heart surgery (a scheduled surgery, not an emergency procedure). He's up on his feet, and was cooking at the stove with no hesitation, shooing people away when they hovered and offered to help.

Yardwork is consuming all of our free time these days. We're anxious not to let our home become that house on the block where it looks like the owner has given up. You all know that house, the one where colored bottles and figurines and "collectibles" fill every window, where cheap statuary has filled the property, where dandelions compete with tall crab grass among the dust. The neighborhood children avoid it because of the neglected vibe it gives off, and the adults find their eyes sliding past it in embarrassment. We're not looking to be the best landscaped house on the street, but looking like we care, like we're trying even though we have no idea what we're doing, that would be nice. But we also have very little interest in maintaining a picture perfect grassy lawn, considering all of the effort that it requires compared to the reward. To that end, we're carefully considering every landscaping decision in order to achieve a property that pretty much takes care of itself.
The look that we're not going for.
Frustrated with our current lawn, which is patchy and scrubby with large areas of brown, we've decided to seed down microclover among the grass to fill in the gaps. Clover will provide lush green coverage (for appearances) and provides the environmental advantages of fixing the nitrogen levels in the soil, requiring less water, and shading the soil to keep nutrients and moisture from bleaching out in the sun. Perhaps best of all, it requires less mowing than grass.
I started raking up the dead grass and spring detritus in preparation of putting down lime and the clover seed. I've never done that before. I've always considered it a waste of effort. I'm shocked at how much nicer a lawn looks without all of the dead grass laying around! "Why," I said, "it looks so nice now! Now I see why people put in the effort of raking it up in the spring!" Pulling weeds up is easier too, now that I don't have to fight a mat of dead vegetation. Apparently it cuts down on ticks, too, which like to hide in leaf litter and dead grass.

(I got my first tick bite this weekend. I had just mentioned to Liam that morning how I had never had a tick on me before, and how bugs seem to leave me alone more than other people (which is fortunate as chemical insect repellents applied to my skin always leave me feeling ill). During our regular after-yardwork tick check I looked down to see one on my stomach. All logical reason left my brain and I started flailing at it and shrieking. Liam came to my rescue with rubbing alcohol to drown it and tweezers to carefully remove it, stopping me from ripping it out of my skin and possibly leaving part of its jaw on my body. Gross. New Hampshire has one of the highest rates of Lyme Disease in the country, which has me looking for natural tick repellents. I've started wearing geranium oil when I'm out in the yard, but I can't tell if it's working as I don't have a high rate of past tick passengers to compare it to.)

While I spent the weekend getting a sunburn out in the yard, Liam hiked Mt. Rattlesnake with Rob and the dog, pulled out all of our patio furniture from the shed and attic, and built a screen for our front storm-door. Why did I think that replacing screens was difficult, or something specialists did?! Two sets of hands make it easier, but actually inserting new screen into the screen frame took less than five minutes (building the frame to fit right into the door took much longer). It made us pause and look around at all of the small tears and gaps in our window screens, considering the possibilities.
Nashua is six months old, 48 pounds, and a terror embracing his rebellious "teenage" phase by gleefully disobeying all of the commands he followed two weeks ago. He likes to disobey until I've had enough and sentence him to a timeout in his kennel, whereupon he'll immediately lay down where he is and look innocent. "Me? Kennel? Oh, no, kennels are for sleeping and Bad Dogs. Look at what a Good Dog I am! I'm just laying here, chewing on a bone, not... doing... anything..." This is a blatant lie, and because I can't back down without becoming a doggie pushover (which leads to more disobedience once he's learned that he can get away with it), this usually turns into me picking him up under his armpits (legpits?) and hauling him into the crate as he resists and howls about how he CAN'T GO BACK TO JAIL! His new favorite outdoor toy is the garden hose, both because it dispenses the Magic Water of Fun, and because he enjoys watching us try to catch him before we think to stomp of the hose and restrict his movements. When we fill his kiddie pool with one inch of water he spends all of his time "digging" in it, splashing water everywhere. When we fill his kiddie pool with six inches of water he growls and bucks and stomps and plunges like a crazed dolphin, splashing water three feet high as he tries to bite it.

A running count of weeds pulled so far this spring: 6549

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Things I'm Learning About Gardening: Part I

Things I have learned this week about gardening and landscaping:

  • Gardeners cuts blooms and branches for their tables not only because they look lovely, but because pruning the plants keeps them in check and keeps them healthy. This has literally never occurred to me. 
  • Forsythia branches turn into roots where they touch the ground, and the bush expands in this manner into a snarled mess. This is why I had difficulty mowing the lawn around these bushes last year.
  • Forsythia is not pronounced "For Cynthia". I don't know why I put an 'n' in there, but I think it sounds nice.
  • If you rake your lawn in the spring, you can pull up the mat of dead grass left over from last year's lawn.
  • Take before and after pictures before you go at an overgrown tree or shrub, so you can see how much work you did, and admire how much better it looks.
  • Stone is expensive. I'm not sure what I expected, but I just want a few stepping stones and most places want you to purchase a whole pallet of the nice kinds.
  • The dog is really interested in digging in freshly tilled soil.
  • The dog is also determined to steal my root digging tool, convinced that it is a magical stick that is ideal for playing Keep Away. He tries to be sneaky, which is quite adorable because he's terrible about being sneaky.
  • Spending two hours pulling dandelions is akin to two hours of squats. I have muscles screaming at me in places I didn't even know I had muscles.
  • If you put a "Free!" sign out in front of your pile of limbs and branches, teenagers planning a bonfire will haul away your pile for free.
The annual war against dandelions has begun. In the last four days I have pulled over 2000 weeds from the yard and garden (mostly dandelions, but there are lots of tiny maple saplings too), in a bid to reclaim my lawn from the anarchy it was allowed to enjoy in years past. Counting helps me power through the tedium, and gives me a sense of accomplishment.

Last week was World Book Night. This year was the first year I participated as a Book Giver. I chose the Penacook Soup Kitchen as my location to hand out books. I was so nervous! I was certain that I would be rejected every time I offered someone a novel. I shouldn't have worried, though. I handed out my twenty books in under five minutes. Some of the people were already starting to read their books before I had even left. This week I'm trying to find homes for the extra books left over from the bookstore.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Springtime house projects

Nashua also chews on rocks. He cracked a tooth on one of them this week and needed to have it extracted at the vet's office (fortunately it was a baby tooth).

We've spent the last two weekends buzzing around the house, invigorated by spring. The brighter days bring more energy but also show us the flaws in the house that were hidden by the gray light of winter. Last weekend Liam and Andrew spent several hours with our new chainsaw, cutting down scrubby spindly saplings and tree branches. There were nearly a dozen scrub trees that had been allowed to struggle up and they each blocked each other from getting sufficient light or space. They came down. There were several large tree limbs (dead and alive) that reached out over our yard, blocking the light and turning our property into a dark and gloomy cave. They came down. With every cut Liam jokingly rejoiced at how we will have fewer leaves and sticks to rake up in the fall.

Now our yard is open and welcoming, with light making it all the way down to the ground. The trees reach their branches up and into the sky, and frame our yard instead of dominate it. It will mean another observation year for us as we see how the yard reacts to the extra light. Perhaps the grass will grow in more than mossy patches. Perhaps the lilacs and the apple tree (which we're not 100% certain is an apple tree) will flower.

While the boys had fun with power tools outside, I had fun inside. I've finally finished retrofitting the closet, which meant cutting boards to the shape of the plaster walls (because plaster could not hold up the hanger rod brackets, and there were no studs to be found), gluing a vinyl covering to the boards for a finished and cohesive look, and drilling and screwing the boards and rods into place. Mum was the one to come up with the plan, and it worked beautifully. It was an awkward little space, but we made it work. I've always wanted a custom closet with multiple rods and levels on which to organize my wardrobe, and now I have one. Dad, I promise that I'll bring the circular saw and sawhorses back soon.

Everything looks crooked and uneven, but that's the settling house, not my measurements! I've checked everything over and over with a level.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Vacation at Smuggler's Notch

Last week we swapped our time share for a week at Smuggler's Notch Resort in Stowe, VT. It was a peaceful week. We didn't do much of importance, besides Not Working. We had grand plans to snowshoe and hike on the mountain trails, but we arrived to find that we were smack in the middle of Vermont mud season, which meant that there wasn't sufficient snow for snowshoeing, and that we needed help at one point to push our car out of the mud in the middle of the road. We feared getting mired in mud if we took to the trails, so we spent our time around the area (Cabot Cheese flagship store!) and in our rented resort apartment.

Snow! Snow and mud!
I like how the bottom of the parking lot looks like sea foam.

The apartment was beautiful! It was bigger (and nicer) than our house! You know those beautiful and spacious apartments you see in television shows and movies? The ones where you think "How do they afford a huge apartment like that in New York City?" That's what it was like.

We left Nashua with a dog-sitter, someone from the Guiding Eyes network so they would be familiar with the training program and wouldn't accidentally undo all of the work we've done. He sent us several pictures, which was sweet since Liam was definitely missing his puppy.
Being a good boy at the Statehouse.
The sitter also sent us a picture of Nashua with a sign around his neck saying 'I chew on doorstoppers." Yep, sounds like our pup! His adult teeth are coming in and he chews on everything while he's teething. We've started giving him frozen carrots, which he thinks are magical tasty sticks that numb his painful gums. He's 5 months old now, and was 33 pounds when last we weighed him. He's getting so big!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

New Beginnings

It's been just over one year since we purchased our house and it's shocking to look around and see how little we've done to make it our own. Of course there have been more important house projects that we've spent our time on, like replacing the rotten trim board on the side of our house and chasing the squirrels out of our attic. We also ripped out the ancient rockwool insulation from our creepy spidery cellar and then spent a few hurried weeks in early winter the fitting the pipes down there with foam insulation tubes. But there has been no painting of walls and we've hung precious few pictures. We're determined that we won't spend another year taking such a lazy approach to the house.

While we're full of resolve (and with the help of Liam's annual bonus) we've decided to tackle the ceiling beams in the dining room. Their wood had never been properly stained or sealed or protected, and they were the sunbleached and dry grey that you sometimes find on old wooden docks. In direct contrast, the old floorboards are a warm reddish color. Here's a picture from last February, when we were having the house inspected before we purchased it.

We went out and bought a little power sander and went to town. Sawdust. Everywhere. We quickly figured out that we're supposed to tent the doorways to prevent covering the adjacent rooms with dust. After two rounds of vigorous sanding we're finally getting to the point where we're almost ready to start staining.

We've been steadily increasing our supply of tools that a new homeowner needs to accumulate, assisted most recently by a moving co-worker (who was happily downsizing from a large house to smaller condo). Every now and then we're surprised that there's another tool or household good that we didn't think to acquire, like a stepladder light enough that I can carry it alone, or wood glue.

Home ownership: a never ending adventure!